Another epic storyline begins this time around with "The Mark of Kaine," a five-parter that sheds a little more light on Kaine and more specifically, the third Peter Parker that's been running around for the past couple of weeks.
Part 1 begins in Web of Spider-Man #124, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. The story begins with a press conference announcing a high-powered defense attorney for Peter Parker, while Ben Reilly takes Mary Jane to his friend, Dr. Seward Trainer. They're running tests on the unborn child MJ is carrying to make sure that everything is okay with the baby. Everyone is a little worried that Peter's irradiated blood may have consequences for the fetus and they want to find out for certain that the child will be all right. Kaine observes from afar, as usual, growing concerned that the walls between Reilly and Parker are crumbling. He also sees that Mary Jane will die... with child. Meanwhile, the third Peter Parker wanders around his old home and wonders how long he's been away and how it came to this. At the same time, Joe Robertson and Jonah Jameson are having a dispute over the integrity of the paper. Jonah wants them to bury any stories about Peter's trial.
In prison, a fire breaks out and Peter comes to the rescue of some of the prisoners, using his super powers to get them out of their cells before the smoke can overcome them. He returns, safely to his cell with no one the wiser.
Jacob Raven is confronted by Doctor Octopus's old partner in crime (and former lover), Stunner. She tells him that she's heard Raven has doubts about Peter's guilt and asks him to team up with her to find the real killer, who also killed her beloved Ock.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I recall, Stunner was created by Tom DeFalco. She was an interesting character, since she obviously had very strong ties to Doctor Octopus, even though we had never seen her before this. There was clearly a lot of back-story to her, and I was curious to see how Tom D. was going to retroactively work her in to Ock's history. Tom D. definitely had a lot of ideas for Stunner, which he would reveal over time. In fact, an entire storyline would later be done that would be the culmination of all the groundwork laid down for her throughout the clone saga and beyond. ]
As Mary Jane leaves Dr. Trainer's labs, Kaine takes her into the sewers. He warns her that her life is near an end and before he can say anymore, she turns a drain on, forcing the water to topple Kaine. Making her escape to the streets again, MJ comes face to face with...Peter Parker.
Part 2 takes place in Amazing Spider-Man #401, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. Mary Jane doesn't know whether this Peter Parker is her husband or Ben, but he tells her that he's neither; that while he's been locked away for five years an imposter stole his life from him. Kaine appears to warn Mary Jane about this new Parker and he and the 3rd Parker fight it out. Kaine wins again, but his fight takes long enough for Mary Jane to get away.
Moments later, Ben Reilly gets a call from Mary Jane, who informs him about the latest developments. At the same time, Peter is visited in prison by one of Traveller's associates, who warns Peter of the danger his wife is in. He decides to take control and come to Mary Jane's aid, even if it means damaging his own reputation should he be caught escaping. As he stands outside the prison walls, Traveller visits him and offers his help. He has put an illusion of Peter Parker in the cell, to remain until Peter can return from his task. Scrier appears after Peter moves on and questions Judas's fascination with the man. Again, a strong connection is hinted at between the two men.
Back at the Parker home, Mary Jane holds a gun in her hand. With all of the villains who've known Peter's secret, she felt safer about having a weapon for protection. She is surprised to find Spider-Man in the house, as well, but it's the 3rd Parker. Mary Jane warns him to stay away as he comes closer and closer. She fires the gun, missing, but the shock is enough to make her lose control. Before anything else can happen, Kaine appears to take out the 3rd Parker and grab Mary Jane. Kaine contemplates killing Parker, but hears something upstairs so he takes MJ and quickly leaves, heading toward his underground hideaway. It turns out that the noise Kaine heard was the Scarlet Spider coming inside. He wonders what Peter is doing home, but before the other Parker can answer, the Peter who just left prison enters the home.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Okay, at this point, the Spider-Man books were in danger of becoming like that old Marx Brothers movie where everyone was running around dressed like Groucho. Now that the three Peters were in the same place at the same time, there needed to be some sense of resolution to all of this. The clone saga was still very engaging and compelling, but from a story point of view, things really should have been headed for the ultimate conclusion.
As an aside, it should be noted that sales on the Spider-Man books at this time were phenomenal. I feel the need to point at that, despite popular belief, the clone saga significantly boosted sales on the Spider-Man books. At a time when the comics industry was starting to head downward, with sales dropping across the board on every title, the Spider-Man line was bucking the trend, with sales holding steady and even increasing each month. Of course, the downside to it was that everyone on the business side of Marvel was pushing us to keep the clone saga going for as long as possible, to milk it for all it was worth. Looking back, I can understand their position - the clone saga was one of the very few things that was actually working in the comics industry at the time, and there was a great deal of fear that the sales would drop like an anvil once the storyline was over. But of course, unnaturally prolonging what was at its essence a very finite storyline was extremely short-term thinking, and the kind of approach that could hurt the entire franchise. We (the editors and the writers) knew this, but the sales and marketing departments wielded a lot of power and influence at that time, and we had little choice but to follow their lead. Which is why Marvel was doing so many gimmick covers and "Alpha" issues and "Omega" issues and multi-part crossover storylines and... well, you get the idea. ]
Spider-Man #58, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna, continues "The Mark of Kaine" with part 3. The three Spider-Men try and make sense of all the confusion. Ben makes the comment that the only thing he's sure of is that he isn't Peter Parker. Scarlet Spider confronts the newest Parker and asks what has happened. The man passes out from the trauma incurred by his battle with Kaine. Scarlet then goes to the Peter who was in prison to find out what he's doing, and Peter reveals that he's going to look for his wife. He takes pieces from his old black costume: the gloves, the mask and web-shooters and creates a non-costume costume. He goes off, telling Scarlet to take care of the newest addition and when Ben goes to do so, he finds that the 3rd Parker in the Spider costume has disappeared.
Out on the rooftops of New York, Peter Parker (black suit) waits for a sign from Mary Jane and is accompanied by Ben, who tells him that he'll need his help to battle Kaine. While Mary Jane tries to get answers from Kaine, she pulls out a device from her pocket, a spider-tracer specially designed with a more powerful frequency to be used in emergencies. Peter gets the signal and goes in search of his wife, telling Ben to stay out of it. Meanwhile, Spider-Man (Peter Parker #3), insists that he won't let the two fakes get the better of him.
Peter in black and Scarlet find the source of the signal and head into the sewers. Scarlet tells Peter that he should go in first and deal with the dangerous Kaine while Peter concentrates on rescuing Mary Jane. As they move on, Peter 3 in the Spider-Man suit tells them that he'll find MJ and kill whoever took her and that the two other Spiders should just leave them alone.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : That pretty much killed any speculation that Peter #3 could be the real guy - Peter Parker would never condone killing. So from that moment on, Peter #3 was essentially nothing more than another plot point that needed to be wrapped up. ]
Mary Jane is on the run from Kaine, who appears to want to fulfill his visions of Mary Jane's death himself when the 3 Spider-Men appear. They pounce on Kaine as MJ tries to get away, not sure that any of them are the real Peter Parker. Scarlet leads the assault on Kaine while Peter in black goes after Mary Jane, who has Peter 3 following her. Peter 3 starts to go crazy, insisting that he's the real Parker and needs to kill everyone else. Before Peter in black and MJ can turn around to escape, they find Kaine blocking the other exit.
The ultra-confusing storyline reaches Part 4 in Spectacular Spider-Man #224, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz. The 3rd Parker now stands revealed as nothing more than a genetically engineered killing machine whose purpose was to destroy. As Peter and Mary Jane make their escape, Kaine and Scarlet Spider take on the monster Parker, who now has the ability to recode his DNA and morph his body at will.
Peter and Mary Jane make their way out of the sewers and onto safety, but they both know that Ben Reilly needs help or he'll never survive. Mary Jane gives her blessing, and Peter grabs the black mask and goes back to save his "brother." The attack comes up onto the surface and the assassin Parker is seemingly killed when a propane truck explodes. Kaine survives and moves on, leaving Reilly be. Peter and Ben confront each other outside, where Peter accuses Ben of the murders he's been arrested for. Ben proclaims his innocence but knows that words can only do so much, so he offers to switch places with Peter. He'll go to prison and let Peter return home to his wife. As Ben Reilly sneaks back to prison as Peter Parker, Scrier and Traveller make their observations.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I liked the fact that the third Peter Parker went down absolutely convinced that he was the real one, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Tom DeFalco did a nice job with this issue, injecting Peter #3 with a real sense of tragedy. He wasn't just a run-of-the-mill, morphing, wisecracking bad guy. Incidentally, Peter #3 was referred to as "Freakface" throughout the issue, and I remember that Tom D. was pushing for that to become the character's regular name in the future. It certainly was no worse than the name that was actually used later on - more on that when we get to it. Overall, though, my belief was that once Peter #3 was revealed to be just another clone, he should have been disposed of as quickly and as permanently as possible. He'd already served his purpose as a red herring, and there were already too many variations of Peter Parker running around. We never should have seen him again, in my opinion. ]
The story reached its conclusion in Spider-Man Unlimited #9, written by Tom Lyle and illustrated by Ron Lim, Ron Garney, Tod Smith, Tom Palmer, Tim Tuohy, Al Milgrom, Jimmy Palmiotti and Randy Emberlin. The main focus of this issue concerns some of Spider-Man's greatest enemies: Vulture, Hobgoblin, Mysterio, Lady Scorpia, Beetle, Shocker and Electro, who gather to decide what to do about Kaine. Since the mysterious vigilante has already killed two of Spider-Man's enemies, they feel that any one of them can be next and should strike proactively.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Tom Lyle was promised the opportunity to write when he came over to Marvel to draw Spider-Man. To fulfill that promise, Spider-Man Group Editor Danny Fingeroth gave Lyle the SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED title as a regular writing assignment. For those of you who don't remember, SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED was a double-sized comic that was published quarterly, sort of like an annual that's published every three months. I could certainly relate to Tom Lyle's desire to write, and he was very enthusiastic about being a part of the creative process. But to be honest, he really wasn't ready for such a big writing assignment. Certainly not in the middle of the clone saga, during which every chapter needed to be a total winner - and in that regard, even experienced, seasoned writers occasionally stumbled. But Danny felt he had an obligation to Tom L. and wanted to keep his promise, which is certainly very admirable.
When Bob Budiansky became Editor in Chief of the Spider-Man Group, Danny was still in place as Group Editor, and Bob didn't want to upset the apple cart too much at the beginning. Nor did Bob want to undermine Danny's authority as Group Editor. Despite his own doubts about Tom Lyle's writing, Bob chose not to overturn Danny's decision. Again, this was admirable. Creatively, however, this would prove to be not the best move. ]
Peter Parker, in Scarlet Spider guise, is heading home to Mary Jane but gets pre-occupied with the Beetle. During their fight, he loses his web pack, which contains the black costume. The pack is found by the police and reporter Ken Ellis, who recognizes the suit and wonders how the Scarlet Spider came into its possession. Peter finally makes it home and reunites with his wife, while Ben tries to adapt to prison life. A visitor is announced and Ben meets with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, who Ben doesn't recognize. Felicia realizes that something strange is going on and wonders what happened to Peter. Meanwhile, Jacob Raven and Stunner continue their questioning of the underworld in an effort to find out more about Kaine. Stunner's methods of interrogation are a little harsher than his, but Raven wants Parker exonerated by any means.
Across town, Kaine attacks the Hobgoblin, who is soon rescued by his fellow super-villains. None of them seem to be able to take Kaine on, but Scarlet (Peter) Spider arrives on the scene to makes sure that no one dies during the extraordinary battle. Eventually it ends with everyone getting away relatively unscathed, and Peter reaching a decision that he must help Ben no matter what. He also needs to find Kaine before he can become a threat to him and Mary Jane again. Speaking of Mary Jane, she's received a call from Dr. Trainer, requesting that she visit his lab to go over the tests they took earlier. After meeting with him, something prompts MJ to run away, worried about whatever news she just received.
Later that evening, Scrier appears at the scene of the battle that occurred between Peter, Ben, Kaine and the assassin Parker. He finds a pile of goo with shreds of the Spider costume and takes it, believing that it may be of some use down the line. The story ends with Mary Jane appearing at Felicia Hardy's. Though they aren't the best of friends, MJ needs someone to talk to that she can confide in.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : All the identity switching, multiple versions of costumes... it was reaching fairly ludicrous proportions. As mentioned earlier, this was an ultra-confusing storyline, but there was at least some forward momentum. The trouble with Mary Jane's pregnancy was obviously the most compelling subplot. Bringing in the Black Cat and having her interact with Ben, who was pretending to be Peter, was a nice idea. And we saw more of Scrier's mysterious solo activities. But considering the fact that the story was called "The Mark of Kaine," we really didn't learn all that much about him, did we? Oh, well, it's not like there wouldn't be plenty of other opportunities for that along the way... ]